Whales off Pacific Coast Draw Crowds, Warnings

Byline: Associated Press

SANTA CRUZ — The Coast Guard monitored waters off Santa Cruz, where a pod of whales remained unusually close to shore — drawing crowds and, authorities said, threatening the safety of on-the-water spectators who tried to get too close a view.

The humpback whales, each measuring about the length of a school bus, have come about a mile from land in search of food. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary said no one has been hurt so far, but at least one sailboat was damaged when it struck a whale.

“The sheer number of folks crowding around the whales is not only an issue for the whales themselves, but also public safety,” Paul Michel, the sanctuary’s superintendent, told The San Francisco Chronicle. He estimated that 100 people took to the ocean on paddleboards and in kayaks on a recent weekend to get a look.

On Nov. 1, the sanctuary and the Coast Guard issued warnings for people to stay at least 100 yards away from the whales or face fines of at least $2,500 for whale harassment.

Don Croll, a professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said whales are good at avoiding people while feeding, but getting too close could pose safety risks. He said the whales are “lunge feeding,” which involves dropping their jaw and swimming just below the surface, capturing everything in their path.

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